Top 10 countries by real-time payment transactions

The boom of ecommerce and the rising demand for instant payment methods amid the pandemic is accelerating a near cashless economy in many countries where central infrastructures are in place. This shift towards digital transactions and real-time transactions—and away from cash and checks—was well underway before COVID-19 exacerbated the need for payments solutions that could keep up with evolving consumer behavior. 

Here are the top 10 countries with the biggest real-time payments market: 

  1. India – $25.48 billion 
  2. China – $15.74 billion 
  3. South Korea – $6.01 billion 
  4. Thailand – $5.24 billion 
  5. UK – $2.83 billion 
  6. Nigeria – $1.91 billion 
  7. Japan – $1.68 billion 
  8. Brazil – $1.33 billion 
  9. US – $1.22 billion 
  10. Mexico – $942 million 

When banks, processors, acquirers, and tech firms look at the future of instant payments, they should look at India—the biggest real-time payments market by far, with 25.48 billion real-time payments transactions made in 2020, according to data from ACI Worldwide. What’s accelerating growth in the region is the fact that India’s payments infrastructure has been in place for nearly a decade now, and  thanks to government-led initiatives aiming to drive financial inclusion for the bankless, real-time payments have been adopted by many.

Similar government-built infrastructures have been set up in China and South Korea, the second and third-largest real-time payments markets, respectively. Paper-based payments are still high in these countries—particularly among older consumers—so there is ample opportunity for growth, especially due to the size of the populations and the more comfortable consumers are getting  with technology.

Overall,  the number of real-time transactions around the world reached a record 70.3 billion in 2020, up 41% from 50 billion in 2019, per that ACI Worldwide study. So while 2020 was a catalytic year, the rate of change isn’t slowing, which is why financial institutions must keep up to stay competitive.  

Real-time payments in the US

Though the country’s share of all transactions doubled in 2020 because of the pandemic, volumes are still small compared to other payment methods. That’s because, compared to more longstanding and established markets in Asia, real-time payments in the US have been slower to roll out. 

While it may seem that US consumers have been using Zelle forever, in actuality, the service launched in 2017, so there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth and even more widespread adoption.  This year, we expect there will be 48.2 million Zelle users in the US. And that figure will grow to 63.0 million by 2025. 

What’s more, FedNow is expected to launch in 2023, and is meant to focus on real-time payment services for all banks. 

Banks would be wise to invest in the US market early, too. North America holds the highest growth potential at 36.5% from 2020 through 2025, as Canada and the US modernize their infrastructure and incumbent banks push services into the mainstream. 

Real-time payments stats and trends

What was once predominantly for entry-level use cases, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions, is now opening opportunities for merchants, billers, and corporations. Real-time infrastructures have the potential to handle payments of millions of dollars for business-to-business (B2B) uses, as they promise to create high-margin opportunities. 

Markets with fewer incumbents, especially those with support from the government to drive financial inclusion, will scale at a faster pace. It’s served well for countries that have relied on real-time payments to distribute stimulus relief in light of the pandemic, which although an extreme event, stressed the importance of modernization roadmaps. 

With an expected global growth rate of 12% by 2025, real-time payments are enabling convenience and control for all users—a strong reason why it’s on its way to becoming ubiquitous for national and regional payment networks.